Want to improve quality, partnerships? Walk in each other’s shoes

Oct. 27, 2020

Keeping Sterile Processing departments (SPDs) performing optimally and ensuring interdisciplinary relationships remain strong and productive is often challenging, even for the most knowledgeable and experienced SPD leader. One way SPD leaders can improve outcomes,  foster better interdisciplinary partnerships and broaden SPD technicians’ experience is to have SPD professionals spend quality time in the various departments they serve. This approach is, of course, in addition to the training, cross training and competency validations SPD leaders already routinely provide in their roles. Such an approach gives SPD employees a clearer view of the big picture when it comes to successful interventional, procedural and surgical departments – and how their products and services directly impact their interdisciplinary customers, and patients.

In my professional career, I’ve personally seen how rotating staff through different departments for up to two weeks at a time gives them a better perspective of what happens behind the scenes.  Interventional, procedural and surgical departments are complicated and have many needs and “moving parts.” When high-pressure situations arise in procedural areas and the risks associated with them are mitigated due to prompt, high quality service and attention to detail from SPD professionals, those in the SPD can take pride in knowing their hard work helped prevent a negative outcome – and a new level of trust and respect can start developing between the departments.

Understanding builds collaboration

The more professionals from one department understand about another department’s roles, needs and challenges (and how each department’s roles interact and intersect with one another), the easier it is to bridge gaps and improve safety and positive outcomes through collaboration. SPD professionals who directly observe procedures gain new perspective about the instrumentation and equipment they process and provide, as well as the need to have sets that are clean, sterile, well-functioning, error-free, and available on time. They will also gain a better understanding of the frustration a surgeon experiences when an instrument is missing or doesn’t perform properly in the middle of a high-stress procedure. When SPD professionals take time to thoroughly check the quality and functionality of instruments, the end user will experience less frustration. And when SPD professionals are able to see instruments in action, they realize the impact they have on every patient. 

Conversely, the actions of interventional, procedural or surgical staff can have a big impact on SPD professionals’ ability to process instruments effectively, efficiently and safely. All staff members in those departments should spend ample time in the SPD, keenly observing all that takes place in each of the critical areas of the department. One day spent in decontamination will convince anyone that properly caring for instrumentation during and after a procedure truly matters. Understanding that the cleaning process actually begins at the point of use  rather than in the SPD’s decontamination areas is essential, as is being knowledgeable about how to apply appropriate enzymatic solutions to the instruments prior to returning those case carts to the SPD.    

Additionally, when procedural staff are able to see firsthand how difficult it can be for their SPD colleagues to manage process quality and follow standards, guidelines, best practices and instructions for use – all while under time pressures – they will have a far better perspective and appreciation of the work being accomplished every day, seven days a week. When all parties understand the issues each other’s department routinely faces, the greater likelihood the departments will work together toward a better solution. 


Instruments that are improperly cared for during or after a procedure or are misplaced or malfunctioning can result in frustration for the end user and negative outcomes for the patient, facility and all departments involved. When departments work together to build better interdisciplinary relationships and a broader understanding of what takes place within one another’s walls, quality and communication will improve, service will be delivered more effectively and efficiently, and positive outcomes will typically result.

SPD leaders (and leaders from the departments they serve) who consistently strive to create a work environment that puts people first and promotes interdisciplinary collaboration will foster greater reliability, safety and accountability. They also help create a team-based environment that can more proactively address challenges and obstacles, mitigate risks and optimize processes and practices – all of which will improve the delivery of safe, effective care and service.

About the Author

David Taylor

David L. Taylor, MSN, RN, CNOR is an independent hospital and ambulatory surgery center consultant and the principal of Resolute Advisory Group LLC, in San Antonio, Texas. 

SPD image courtesy Kat Velez, Leesar, HPN’s 2017 SPD of the Year. Elephant: 27671658 © Taalvi | stock.adobe.com
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